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The Difference Between Acoustic and Classical Guitars

Have you recently decided that you would like to learn to play the guitar? If so, you will need an instrument to play, but which type of guitar should you choose? All the terminology can be so confusing when starting out, so what is the difference between an Acoustic and Classical guitar? It's a common question!

Learning to play guitar is a rewarding experience and an exciting journey that begins with choosing your instrument. You could use any guitar when you're first starting to learn, however you will find that many budding musicians will begin with either an acoustic or classical guitar.

The two primary reasons for choosing one of these is that firstly, it's possible to find inexpensive models and secondly, these types of guitars do not require the extra investment of an amplifier; you can simply pick up the instrument and start playing.

Before you settle and make a choice, it's always beneficial to have the facts. Below you can acquaint yourself with the key differences between Acoustic and Classical guitars to help you make an informed choice, after all an informed choice is more likely to be the right choice! So here is a brief guide to the distinguishing features of these two instruments:

differences between classical & acoustic guitar labelled

Sound & Strings

Classical Guitar Strings example

Classical guitar strings example from an instrument instore.

The sound of an instrument could be the deciding factor for you when making your choice. It is a good idea to think about the type of music that you enjoy listening to and what sort of music you think that you would like to play. If your preference is for Flamenco or Spanish guitar, then of course a Classical model would likely be your preferred option. If you are more interested in pop or country music, then an acoustic guitar might serve you better.

Whether Acoustic or Classical, guitars vary enormously in the sound that they produce. The construction and the wood used are amongst the factors that will influence the tone of the instrument and so it's a good idea to listen to a few different models before you make your choice. Doing so will give you some understanding of what is available and you may find which type of sound appeals to you most. It could be that you adore loud, rich tones but alternatively you might find that you prefer a softer sound.

Do read our guide to guitar tone woods as this will help you to understand how the materials used to make guitars influence the sound that the instruments produce.

Both styles of guitar are actually Acoustic guitars but Classical models have nylon strings whereas the more modern instruments, which are referred to as Acoustic guitars, have steel strings. The two types of strings feel and sound very different.

Acoustic Guitar Strings example

Acoustic guitar strings example. Photo adapatation of image via Flickr user:specialpaul (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Nylon strings are thicker and sound more mellow. The steel strings of the Acoustic guitar are much brighter and resonate for longer. With nylon strings the G, B and high E strings are simply nylon and then the bass strings have nylon cores with metal coatings. Steel is actually a bit of a misnomer as steel strings can be fashioned from a variety of metals including nickel and bronze. They are sharper on your fingers but this will improve as your technique develops and you get used to playing.

Shape

Acoustic and Classical guitars are shaped differently. Acoustic guitars are usually built with a dreadnought shape which is larger than that of a Classical instrument. It is rare to have cutaways giving you access to the higher frets on Classical guitars.

The Fret Board

The Fret board of a Classical guitar is considerably wider than that of an Acoustic model. Also Classical guitars will often not feature fret markers along the fingerboard.

Price

Your final choice of guitar may be at least partially dictated by your budget, and that's sensible. Classical guitars can often be a little cheaper than Acoustic models, but as with anything, there's a huge variation across the range. Your first guitar won't need to be costly instrument in order to get started but an investment in a budget model may quickly lead to you looking to move on to a superior model. On the other hand of course, you might prefer to keep your costs down initially whilst you find out if you really do enjoy playing and which instrument best suit your style.

Acoustic guitar image via Wikimedia Commons (PD). Classical guitar image via LGS inventory.

London Guitar Studio - Mon Jun 17 18:21:09 BST 2019 [web3]